My Dream (Day) Job


Ten years ago at my grandmother’s 90th birthday party my mom gave a speech. Grandma had been a teacher, so Mom rattled off a list of children and grandchildren that were also educators. I jolted a bit when I heard my own name among them. It actually confused me for a quick second. What’s she talking about? I’m not a teacher, I thought.

But of course I was. I had just wrapped up a three year stint teaching English in Japan. In the decade since, I’ve added another five years to that tally. The eight years I’ve spent teaching eclipses all the other jobs I’ve had by a pretty significant margin, both in terms of time spent and money earned. But in spite of all that, it still feels a little weird to call myself a teacher. I think this has a lot to do with the capacity in which I was employed.

For both of my teaching gigs I worked as an Assistant Language Teacher (or an “ALT”) through “JET” (a work exchange program run by the Japanese government). To become a JET ALT, you just need to be from an English speaking country and have a bachelor’s degree in anything; no prior teaching experience or certification is required. Due to the lack of formal teaching training, JET ALTs are required to teach with a Japanese teacher who they assist (in theory at least). Opportunities for advancement are nil, and you can only do the JET Program for a maximum of five years. It is, by design, not something you can easily parlay into a career.

Ironically, ALTs with a background in education were often the most frustrated with the job. An ALT’s role in the classroom varies greatly, but is often extremely limited. It isn’t at all unusual to be put in charge of a five minute warmup game, maybe spending a few minutes doing a pronunciation exercise, and then spend the rest of the class standing awkwardly off to the side while the “real” teacher explained grammar points in Japanese. Outside of class, there was often even less to do, especially during summer vacation or midterms.

So I can understand why the job would leave people dissatisfied. But personally, while teaching isn’t my calling, I begrudgingly enjoy it in spite of myself. I never really looked forward to going to Monday morning, but I didn’t dread it either. Once I got to work, the day usually flew by. And the thing that drove a lot of ALTs crazy, all the free time, was fine with me. After I finished lesson plans, I’d just study Japanese or work on comic scripts or something.

So I can’t say working as an ALT is my dream job. But it just might be my dream day job. I took it seriously for what it was, taught whatever classes I had that day, and then went home and forgot about it. The steady paycheck, low stress, and lack of overtime let me devote my evenings and weekends to my true passion, comics. I could see myself being content working as an ALT indefinitely (which I’m sure would shock the me of ten years ago).

My tenure as a JET ALT is over and I’m back in the States for now, but within the next year or two, I hope to make it back to Japan to work as an ALT again. I don’t know how viable this is, but I’d really love to find a decent part-time ALT position. I think that would be the perfect balance between steady income and having enough time to devote to my art.

As I understand it, landing a decent ALT position outside of the JET Program is no easy task. Even with my eight years of experience I don’t think I’d necessarily be a shoo-in. So I hope to get some teaching certification and look for other ways to help improve my employability in the coming months.

Which brings me to my ulterior motive for writing this blog entry. If anyone out there has any insight about landing a decent ALT job outside of the JET Program, I’d be all ears! I’m particularly interested in in what kind of teaching certification/program I should look into, as that’s the next step for me in the short term. This blog has been inactive for so long maybe there’s not anyone reading with experience in this area, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Thanks!

Next Monday’s blog entry will be about Tonoharu: Part Three. Stay tuned!

Where I See Myself in Five Years (Summer 2014 Edition)


As I wrote last Monday, I’ve decided to resurrect weekly updates to this blog until at least this fall. With a self-imposed burden of 20+ entries to write, I’ve been thinking about what I can do to fill them. Since I haven’t regularly updated the blog in well over a year, I figured a “what I’ve been up to” entry would make for a good start.

So I reread the last update entry I did back in early 2013, and mulled over what’s changed since then. But despite the fact it’s been more than sixteen months, I don’t really have all that much to report. The Tonoharu: Part One paperback is coming down the pipeline, but that’s really the only significant piece of news I got. Otherwise I’ve been following the course outlined in the last update blog entry: trying to bulk up my savings, and chipping away at Tonoharu: Part Three.

So instead of writing about the recent past, I’ve decided to look in the opposite direction. The stock interview question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” seemed like a good jumping off point, so without further ado here are five significant changes I expect to see in the next five years:

1) I will quit my day job.
I’m currently wrapping up my third year as an English teacher in Japan. I’ve signed up for a fourth year, and will probably also do a fifth. But five years is the maximum tenure that my program allows. For better or for worse, come August 2016 I’ll be out of a job. But actually, I’m sort of looking forward to it because…

2) I’ll be an artist full time (for a while, at least).
This is the main reason I’ve saving so diligently for the past couple years. I want to have the flexibility to be able to devote myself to my art (once again) without worrying about a day job.
By the time my teaching stint comes to an end, I should have enough saved up to get by without income for two years. My plan is to only do art-related stuff for the first twelve months of that. In addition to actual cartooning, this would include marketing/art grant applications/convention appearances and other “business-y” things like that, but no unrelated day jobs.
After that, I’ll see where I’m at and decide where I want to go from there. No matter what, by the end of the second year I want to be bringing in at least as much as I spend. There’s a good chance that will require me to start working a day job again, which is fine. My hope, though, is that I can make ends meet working no more than half time. Full time employment just doesn’t give me enough free time for my artistic pursuits. With the the right combination of frugality and supplementary art income, I hope that I’ll never need to work a full time day job again. (Knock on wood!)

3) I will finally finish off and release the last part of Tonoharu.
I’ll be writing a detailed progress report for Tonoharu: Part Three in the near future, so I’ll save the particulars for that. But suffice it to say the next five years will see Tonoharu’s completion and publication.

4) I will streamline my process for post-Tonoharu work.
I’ve been working on Tonoharu for ten years. TEN YEARS. And it’s still not done. (albeit at least now the end is in sight). Since I aspire to create more than, like, three or four stories before I die, I need to speed up my process drastically. Worst case scenario, I wouldn’t want to spend more than, say, two or three years on a single project. But ideally I’d like to finish something significant every year.
This will require me to completely revamp the way I work, but as I say, it has to happen. I have some ideas about what I can do to streamline things, but we’ll get into that in a future entry.

5) I’m going to try to find a better balance between life/work.
I have to admit, it was a little disheartening to realize that the last sixteen months didn’t have enough interesting news to fill up a measly little blog entry.
I’m reminded of the Lennon quote “life is what happens while you are busy making other plans”. I have a bad habit of getting tunnel vision when it comes to my goals. Saving money and devoting time to my comics are important of course, but so are a lot of other things. It’s not like my life is on pause while I’m saving up this little nest egg, it’s ticking by day by day.
Now, to be fair: it’s not like I haven’t left the house for the past sixteen months.The focus of this blog is on my artistic work, so I’m not going to write about spending time with friends or trying a new restaurant or whatever. Plus trying to manage both a full time day job in addition to my comics isn’t a walk in the park, so I should cut myself some slack. But at the same time, I’m going to try to be more mindful that frugality and efficiency aren’t everything, and that I should loosen the purse strings and stop and smell the roses sometimes.

For better or worse, I’ll be in a very different place in 2019 than I am now. I’m excited to see how things will pan out.